The patience of Job and the unwarranted attacks against him by his three friends dominate the majority of the book of Job; however, the thirty-second chapter introduces a man often overlooked. Elihu appears practically out of nowhere. Up to this point in the account, we tend to envision Job sitting on the ground with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sitting opposite him, with perhaps all three in the shade of a tent or house. However, as chapter thirty-two makes clear, Elihu had been there listening all along. He had listened to every accusation of the three as well as to every defense by Job before deciding to participate. But rather than concentrating on his speech at the moment, consider his explanation for remaining silent: “So Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, answered and said: ‘I am young in years, and you are very old; Therefore I was afraid, And dared not declare my opinion to you. I said, “Age should speak, And multitude of years should teach wisdom”’” (Job 32:6–7). The wisdom of his approach foreshadowed the wisdom of the speech to follow. Unfortunately, we rarely appreciate or consider practical wisdom of this sort.
Elihu’s silence grew out of his respect for those of greater age and with more experience. In today’s world, where social media gives the impression that having an opinion and a platform from which to speak automatically means that the opinion should be shared, Elihu’s willingness to listen and learn may seem quaint by comparison. Nevertheless, it displays great character. He did not assume that he knew it all or that he was the equal of these older men. Instead, he recognized that his youth and lack of experience made it more likely that he would benefit from listening more than from speaking. He recognized that maturity can look to multiple experiences from which to draw comparisons to apply to a present problem. In short, he understood that the others had seen more and knew more by right of experience than he did, and he acted accordingly. It is with great sadness that I have observed a younger generation that, as a whole, seems completely unaware of the fact that the so-called answers they often propose—both in society and in the church—have a track record of failure. Their ignorance of this demonstrates that they tend to value their own intuition over past experience. This is not some new phenomenon. It is a recurring feature among inexperienced youth.
However, this does not mean that those who are older are more intelligent or that those who are younger have nothing to offer. Elihu did ultimately speak precisely because the older men failed to speak with wisdom. Either their experience or their reflection was insufficient to the challenge, and Elihu recognized it. But he did more than criticize their failures, he brought up something new that they had not considered. This combination offers a great example of how the younger generation can have a positive impact even in their youth. By respecting the wisdom and experience of previous generations, learning as much as possible from them, and then patiently waiting to make a contribution that demonstrates both respect and insight, the younger generation will find how quickly they will be included, appreciated, and respected themselves. And this is yet another essential lesson. Respect is not something you gain at a graduation; it is something that you earn by being productive, helpful, and respectful. When all these combine, the generation will not matter, and people will simply work together with mutual respect.